One of the most controversial figures of the Second World War was an african who sunk more German battleships than the Royal Navy, did as much to win the Battle of Britain as Fighter Command (but lost more men in the process), and killed over 50,000 of the enemy in a single night.
What interested me most was the thoughts of such a commander. It's not only Air Marshalls who strive hard, have to overcome obstructive idiots who are supposed to be helping you, and when you've succeeded, get it in the neck from those you've most benefitted. It is clear his main enemy during the war was useless bureaucrats. High up on his list was top brass at the RN with their battleship mentality, and requests to divert money and bombers to some of their more pointless tasks (as he saw it). He showed disdain also for the army's cavalry mentality, but probably most of all he hated pointless civil service delay during war-time:
"After the war, Albert Speer, [...], was asked to what extent the loss of records affected efficiency in production. He replied "On the contrary, the loss of records led to a temporary loosening of the ties of bureaucracy. We very often received the message 'Administrative building burnt out, production continues at full pressure.' " Perhaps our own problems could have been solved as expeditiously by a few bombs on the appropriate Government departments."
Unexpected attacks that hurt him more though were those from the floor of the House of Commons, and Fleet Street; he didn't have to wait till the end of the war to learn that his efforts were considered offensive by many, as he acknowledges in the title of his book which is to some extent an account of his life as well as of the bomber offensive itself.
At least two of his brothers had been considered more promising than him, and though born (in 1892) in England, he had chosen to become a Rhodesian. Resisting intense pressure from his father to join the army, at sixteen he accepted a ticket and a fiver and went off to become in turn a gold miner, farmer and driver, and loved the life. Returning from a trip into the bush he heard of the outbreak of WWI and took the last available position in the 1st Rhodesian Regiment: bugler. He soon took part in the greatest marching performance of an infantry brigade in English military history, and after they had: "...defeated and collected the Boche ... I sailed for England determined to find some way of going to war in a sitting position. I thought of the cavalry but I had no faith in horse warfare. The Gunners were full up. I thought I would learn to fly; even before the war I had toyed with the idea of joining the R.N.A.S. and might have done so if it had not meant becoming a professional sailor. I therefore joined the R.F.C."
Openly admitting to help from a highly-placed uncle, he was appointed a second-lieutenant on probation, and soon formed a squadron for home defence (one of his men shot down the first Zeppelin) and for defending artillery spotters in France.
Staying in the R.A.F. after the war his liking for a warm climate took him to the Middle East. Amidst terrible privations and shortages mostly due to maladministration, he tells us how he was involved in the bombing of "Irak" (or "Mespot" as they called it).
Just before WWII he was in Palestine. It seems the rules for the British there were:
"...you must not get rough, no matter how rough the "enemy" is... My advice to all young commanders in all services is, whenever you see any prospect of being called out "in aid of the civil power" in any part of the world, to get the hell out of there as quickly and as far as you can. If you fail by being to soft you will be sacked; if you succeed by being tough enough, you will certainly be told you were too tough, and you may be for it."
He raises a number of interesting points in his account of the war itself. He ascribes the German decision to stop the Blitz to their very high loss of bombers due to crash landing at night on their return to base; the industrial haze of the Ruhr defended it from effective raids in the first part of the war; the field of "Operations Research" grew out of the need to answer questions on the effectiveness and strategy of raids without being able to run controled experiments. Notable in his absence from the book is Leigh-Mallory who, in his biography, was described has having organised the bombing of the French railways before and after D-day, which Harris discusses as his own work.
The effectiveness of Bomber Command rose exponentially towards the end of the war; it is not well-appreciated how incredibly accurate, even at night, the Lancasters and Mosquitos became. A great fan of the Americans, Harris obviously regarded them as rivals, and he points out that they also opted for carpet bombing; it produced a firestorm in Tokyo. He doesn't mention though that American day bombing damaged the German war effort in the air as well on the ground.
Another German veiwpoints on Harris' work from the book:
Speer: "Owing to their greater effectiveness, night attacks caused considerably more damage than day raids... by reason of the fact that the superheavy bombs caused shattering damage to [the synthetic oil plants]."
Harris suffered less for his efforts than Oppenheimer, though his reputation fared worse. His regretless post-war return to his adopted Africa was probably accompanied by the thought that you can't expect thanks for a difficult and dirty but essential job well executed.